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August 2013

Facebook changes the rules!


Drew McLellan is the owner of McLellan Marketing Group

Whether you knew it or not -- or chose to obey it or not -- until this past week it was against Facebook's terms and conditions for businesses to run contests on their own timelines, unless they used a third party app like Shortstack.

You can now invite Facebook users to like, comment or even create a post on your page as a way to vote or enter a contest. 

I know many of you are thinking… "I've been doing that for years!" Well, now you can do it legally.

You still need to have:

  • Official rules, outlining the contest and how you will select the winners (including terms and eligibility requirements)
  • A notice that states that Facebook is in no way sponsoring, endorsing or administering your contest or promotion.

If you're thinking about running a contest for your Facebook page, be sure to read Facebook’s promotional guidelines, found in Section E, here.

All of that is well and good. But keep in mind, you still need to apply some marketing sensibility to your contest. If it isn't relevant and of value to your Facebook page fans -- it's not going to work.

Follow these simple rules for creating a Facebook contest that will actually accomplish what you want.

Have specific outcome goals: Why are you running the contest? What will success look like?

How will you monitor contest: What if your contest garners way more attention than you anticipated? Who is overseeing the page and how will you handle the increased traffic?

Think bigger picture: Great -- you now have all these new FB fans. What are you going to do with them? What happens over the next few weeks and months to keep them engaged and connected to you?

Teach them about your brand: Your contest should help the FB user get to know your brand and product/service better. Make sure the contest itself and the prizes reflect what you're all about.

(Check out these successful FB contests for some ideas)

Facebook contests probably fall under the "just because you can, doesn't mean you should" maxim. Don't get me wrong. They can be an incredible opportunity to bring your brand zealots closer to you, get connected with some of your customers who are still holding you at arm's length and introduce you to a whole new group of people.

But remember that Facebook is permission-based. So if you are annoying or worse -- boring -- you're going to shorten your friend list and your influence.

Go forth and give things away. But make sure you follow the rules. (Mine and Facebook's!)

 ~ Drew McLellan, McLellan Marketing Group's Top Dog

Moving on up... to the Southside!

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

Today is finally moving day for the first time in 22 years. I found several choices to make the big move more sustainable. 

Bio-degradable peanuts instead of Styrofoam

Styrofoam peanuts last longer, are lighter, and do not compress as much as corn and starch peanuts. However, corn peanuts can go in my compost pile! Styrofoam could be used over and over but where am I going to store boxes of Styrofoam waiting for the next move? 

I bought many boxes from U-Haul and what am I going to do with all those boxes? U-Haul has a service called U-Haul Customer Connect where you can post that you want to buy, sell, or give away boxes. It’s a great idea to share used boxes, because I would much rather give them away than put them in the recycle bin. 

Rent plastic moving containers
If you do not want to mess with buying boxes you can rent plastic totes and return the totes. These can obviously be reused many times. They would also keep your stuff from getting crushed. 

Rubber bands
Some movers are using wide rubber bands to close boxes rather than strapping tape. The bands can be reused over and over again where the tape is non-biodegradable and goes in the trash. 

Donate unwanted stuff
You can imagine after 22 years we have stuff. Rather than move stuff, I am giving away clothing and household items no longer used. Why move stuff that won’t get used? Moving can be an ideal time to recycle. 

If you have an upcoming move, give me a shout. We can exchange boxes over a cup of coffee. 


Ideas are everywhere -- Part II

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

I noted in my last blog that ideas are everywhere for small retailers to make their businesses and lives better.

Being an avid runner in my off hours, some of my favorite ideas come from articles in running magazines, like a Duncan Larkin story titled "Recharge Your Running" in the August issue of Competitor.

Just like a runner, if you don't train and plan for your next race, chances are you'll not be as successful as you could have been or you'll just hurt at the finish line. Applying a couple of Larkin's points for runners to your retail business just might shake things up for you.

Larkin writes, "Know when to shut down your season. Learn your limits: Don’t try to squeeze in 'just' one more race if you are physically and emotionally spent."

So true. As retailers, we want to sell more products and do everything we can to make our customers happy. That mindset is what makes us successful businesspeople, but it can also tempt us to take on "just" one more sale and "just" one more promotional project, even though we may not perform at our best. Business owners, like runners, need to recognize when it's time to take a breather and focus their attention elsewhere for a few days or even weeks before going full speed ahead again.

Conversely, you may need to speed things up. Sometimes when runners are in a late-summer slump they need a jolt to their system, especially if they have a fall marathon coming up, Larkin writes.

What looms for my store, the Heart of Iowa Market Place, and every other retailer is the marathon called the holiday season -- and it will be here before we know it.

This may be the perfect time to give your business a jolt by speeding things up. Picking up the pace considerably to get everything in shape right now will help your business be more efficient and more profitable during the holiday season marathon.

You could complete your holiday catalog by mid-summer so it's ready to go out ahead of the season and you get people thinking about your business. You can reach out now to line up your additional seasonal help. You can even do that task we all dread: Clean up the back room so you have an organized workspace for the season.

Whether you shut down, speed up or do both in the next few weeks, mixing up your business running routine can help you get ready for the run to the end of another retail year.

-Kelly Sharp

Networking on social media

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

It’s practically impossible to go a full day without someone telling you how busy they are right now. Although that is somewhat annoying, it probably is also very true. I know for myself I would, of course, love to have more time for personal hobbies and interests, but I would also like to have more time for my business goals. One of those goals is networking. Since we basically live on all social media platforms here at Happy Medium, I thought it would probably be best to combine the two and make a go of it.

Here are my tips for networking on social media:

Use the appropriate platforms: For example, if you’re a photographer – using LinkedIn to network might be good – but wouldn’t Instagram or Facebook be even better? You’re a visual company, why not use your best marketing tool, your work, to get business? Find the right fit and you’ll find the right customers.

Be honest: I get a couple of LinkedIn messages every day asking me to coffee “to learn more about my business and see how they can help me get more work” – when usually what happens is you go to coffee and they spend the whole time pitching their own services. (Not all the time of course, but often.) Then you don’t want to go the next time when it’s a legitimate lead and you might miss out. So if you decide to do networking by reaching out to people you don’t know – just be honest about your intentions. Then you kick off the conversation with everyone understanding the expectations and nobody feeling like they were misled.

Set a goal: I try to reach out to at least two people a week via social media. It’s pretty easy to do because it can be on your schedule. Whether it’s participating in groups on LinkedIn/Facebook, tweeting with other industry professionals or reaching out to people you’d really like to get in front of, anything works – just two a week will probably get you pretty far!

Dress for success: Make sure your profile looks just as nice as you would if you were attending a networking event. First impressions are everything and online is no different! Don’t make your profile picture a photo from tailgating last year where you cropped out your spouse. Take the time (and money) to get a professional photo taken.

Ask for recommendations: This is one very simple thing to do. Ask your clients/partners/co-workers to leave recommendations on your LinkedIn/Facebook/Yelp (whatever applies) about you or your business. Often people will visit your page and you don’t even know they are there. The best recommendation is a testimonial – so make sure your pages are stocked with information about all the great work you do.

Good luck! It’s not that scary – I promise, and the worst you will get is a no – which is the same as networking in person right? Go for it and tweet me @interactivekate to tell me how it’s going!


Can you tell me about your brand?


Drew McLellan is the owner of McLellan Marketing Group

At McLellan Marketing Group, we often get to help new companies create their brand and existing companies discover their brand. That may sound ridiculous -- surely a company should understand it's own brand, right?

Not really.

Many companies can't articulate how their company is different from their competitors. They talk about product features or unique service offerings but they never dig down deep enough to truly identify how or why they are different in a way that matters to their customers.

Your brand isn't about what you do or sell. It's about why your company exists and how the world would be a different place if it didn't.

Let's say you sell a widget that helps me use a GPS locator to find my pet if he/she ever got lost. You don't sell the widget. You sell peace of mind. You sell furry families. You sell protection of one of the most coveted bonds on this planet -- a person and their beloved pet.

Why do you make that widget? Maybe you're a huge dog lover and you've experienced the heartbreak of having a dog get loose and never knowing what happened to him. You don't want some other kid to ever go to bed crying like you did.

That's your why.

That's the essence of your brand… and it has nothing to do with GPS technology or the fact that I can buy your widget in pink, blue or chartreuse. And before you say it -- yes, this applies as much (if not more) to B2B companies.

Wondering what your brand is all about? Try answering these questions - but the answer can never be the product or service you sell.

  • Beyond profitability, what is the mission of your company?
  • If your company were to leave a legacy, what would it be?
  • How does your organization make the world a better place?
  • If firm disappeared tomorrow, what would be missed most of all?
  • What is the single most-important aspect of your company?
  • With regard to your organization, what do you feel passionate about? 
  • What business is your company in? 
  • What business is your company not in? 
  • Which three adjectives best describe your organization? 
  • Who (customer) would love your company the most? 
  • How do you prioritize your customers? If you had to allocate 100 points between the different customers segments or types (in terms of importance), how would you do so? 
  • What customer need does your product/service fulfill? Why does your target customer need or want you sell? 
  • What emotion(s) do you most closely associate with your product or service? 
  • How will your organization change your industry? 
  • How will your company change the world? 

 And some fun ones to really get you thinking differently:

  • If your company was a shape, what would it be?
  • If your organization was a texture, what would it be?
  • If your firm was a mood or feeling, what would it be?
  • If company was something from nature, what would it be?

Don't be one of those companies that doesn't have any idea how to answer these questions, or worse -- doesn't understand why you should bother. In a world where everyone has competition and it's so easy to become a commodity -- don't underestimate the power of understanding your brand and beginning to explore how you can bring that brand to life for your customers.

~ Drew McLellan, McLellan Marketing Group's Top Dog

West End Salvage could be West End Recycle

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

I have never been an antique kind of guy, but a recent trip through West End Architectural Salvage made me think antiques are one of the earliest ways of recycling. Instead of dining at a new steel and glass table you could dine at a 200-year-old oak table. 

DSCN3279pDon Short opened West End Salvage in 2006 in an old building on the site of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park and moved to the current location at 22 9th Street one year after opening. The store now features a coffee shop, five floors of stuff, and a furniture shop. Many wedding receptions and business parties take place there after normal business hours.

Don Short says the fastest moving items are stained glass and unique items. Buyers are mostly homeowners rather than contractors because of the time to find just what you want. On a typical Saturday about, 2,500 people roam the aisles and even 100 on week days. Many come from out of state to find a treasure.

Furniture is made in the basement and integrates antiques into a new bar of reclaimed wood or a slab of native Iowa walnut into a beautiful table. 

And where does all the stuff come from? A buyer in Texas informs Don of treasures from Italy, Turkey, or the United States. Or a foundry in Chicago that decides to finally clean up the old warehouse and discovers 150 wooden mold pieces sitting under a tarp for the last 30 years.

Next time you want to add a treasure to your house, make a trip to West End Architectural Salvage. I will!

Rob Smith


Ideas are everywhere

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

Opportunities for retailers to find great ideas and apply them to their own businesses are all around us.

Being a runner, some of my favorite sources of ideas are found in magazines geared toward runners. The latest issue of Competitor magazine has an article titled "Recharge Your Running" in which author Duncan Larkin describes 10 ways runners can rejuvenate their late-summer training. That knowledge easily can be transferred to small retailers.

Let's tackle just one of the 10 points today: Find running buddies.

This is an easy one. One reason we're small business owners is because we like to do things our way and be responsible for the results. But, just like solo runners, sometimes you can start to struggle with motivation.

Larkin quotes running coach John Honerkamp: "It can be lonely out there, especially in a slump." Honerkamp might as well have been talking about small business!

A slump is a smart time to reach out to a fellow retailer to brainstorm new ideas and lift yourself up. A smarter time to find a business running buddy is before you're in a slump; you'll really benefit from the positive energy you'll generate.

Larkin also suggests that runners join a running club. Because my store, the Heart of Iowa Market Place, is located in historic Valley Junction, my "business running club" is the Valley Junction Foundation. Yours should be your local chamber of commerce and your neighborhood business association.

Take time today to find your business running buddy.

Stay tuned for my next blog … and the next recharging idea.

-Kelly Sharp

The performance review conundrum

Victor Aspengren is a vice president at Prairie Capital Advisors Inc.

When companies are asked "What is your greatest asset?", 95% of the time the answer is "our people". If people are the greatest asset and a company wants to maximize its assets, does it not make sense that a return on invest (ROI) is calculated?

Companies measure their performance with monthly financial reports and they slice and dice the numbers of the company in a hundred ways to analyze their ROI. 

The comedy of people being the greatest asset in a company is that the majority of companies only measure their people once a year through a performance review process. To add to the comedy, most companies and their employees would grade their performance review process with a "F".

The following is a short list of typical performance review issues:

  • Rating scales
  • Performance review is concurrent with wage increases
  • Supervisors' (reviewers) lack of preparation
  • No dialog
  • It happens once a year
  • Lack of goals
  • The CEO does not get reviewed
  • The Board of Directors does not get reviewed

The list goes on and on...

Companies should consider making a significant investment in their performance review process.  It could be one of the best first steps to maximize the greatest asset in a company - "the people".

 -Victor Aspengren

Email marketing: Are you missing out?

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

Did you know that for every $1 spent on e-mail marketing, the average return on investment is $44.25? (Source: Experian). Our clients are always asking us what their expected ROI will be, no matter what type of advertising we’re talking about. Usually, of course, we can only give estimates, and even though this is somewhat the same case – this is a very high ROI for such a small investment. Why, then, aren’t you utilizing e-mail marketing? Or maybe you are, but it doesn’t look like the image you truly want to be presenting for your brand.

Here are some tips of how to get started or improve your current situation: 

1)   It all starts with the top: Make sure you’re using a strong copywriter to put together your e-mails from the subject line, all the way to the bottom. If you’re subject line isn’t catchy, you’re strongly reducing the chance of people opening the e-mail you just paid to send.

2)   Make sure the e-mail looks as professional as you are:  You’re working everyday to make sure the job you do or your company is the best it can be, right? So make sure you’re not sending out something that reflects anything less. If you’re sending out something that is misaligned, not really the same colors as your logo, or looks like it’s from the 1980s – it probably is not giving people your best impression. It’s so inexpensive to get a nice template designed for you, so spend the money (remember that amazing ROI?!) to do it right.

3)   Database building is key:  Usually when we start working with clients on e-mail marketing they ask about purchasing lists. (Similar to what you would do for direct mail). Unfortunately for advertisers (fortunately for consumers) e-mail databases aren’t truly for sale. You normally have to send your e-mails to a 3rd party to send it out for you and therefore lose a lot of the control. Really though, wouldn’t you want to personally be reaching people who have shown interest in your business? Just make sure you come up with a process to constantly be building your database. If you host an event, have a sign-up. If you start working with a new client, make sure to add them so they stay in the loop, etc!

4)   Get creative: Last Thursday I went to Legally Blonde at the Des Moines Community Playhouse (which was awesome by the way!). Then, Friday morning I received an e-mail from them asking if I enjoyed the show and asking that if I did, to please tweet and/or Facebook about it. What a fantastic idea! There is no cheaper way to grow ticket sales than with free testimonials, I suspect. Their e-mail was personalized to me, they wanted to make sure I had a good experience, and then reminded me to take a few seconds to tell my friends.

If you’re still not convinced, check out “25 Mind Blowing Facts about E-mail Marketing".

Where does your e-mail marketing stand? E-mail me at katie@itsahappymedium.com!  And sign up for the Happy Medium e-mails. (See what I did there? You can do it too!)


When you buy business assets, no do-overs.


Joe Kristan is a CPA at Roth & Company P.C.

When a business goes up for sale, the buyer often prefers to buy the business assets, rather than corporate shares or LLC interests. Buying only the assets minimizes the baggage you might assume if you buy the corporation stock. 

Tax planning often favors an asset purchase. If you buy assets, you normally get to re-start the depreciation of the business, and you can deduct purchased "goodwill" of the business over 15 years. Purchasers of stock normally get no "step-up" of the business assets for depreciation. 

The tax law wants business buyers and sellers to agree on the purchase price allocation. That is to keep the buyers and sellers from "whipsawing" the tax man. Sellers typically want to allocate sale price to non-depreciable land, to long-lived buildings, and to goodwill, because those gains are taxed at favorable capital gain rates. In contrast, buyers want to allocate purchase price to inventory and equipment - which they can deduct sooner, but which generate high-rate ordinary income to the seller. 

The buyer and seller have to report the allocation on Form 8594 with their tax returns so the IRS can make sure the buyer and seller aren't taking differing positions. If they do take differing positions, the IRS can assess each taxpayer based on the other taxpayer's allocation, they just step aside and let them fight it out.

A company named Peco Foodsbought two poultry processing plants in Mississippi. They went ahead and filed their Form 8594, as they were supposed to. Then they had second thoughts. 

They hired an appraisal company to do a “cost segregation study.” Engineers looked over the purchased buildings and identified components they considered to really be part of the manufacturing machinery, and therefore eligible to be written off over a shorter life. They filed tax returns using the results of the study, taking larger depreciation deductions.

The IRS didn't like that, as this led to a "whipsaw." They disallowed the additional deductions, saying the buyer was stuck with the original allocation. The Tax Court agreed, and now the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the Tax Court:

In binding Peco to both agreements, the Commissioner can be assured that both the buyer, (Peco) and the respective sellers, (Green Acre and MD), treat the assets consistently for federal tax purposes... As the Danielson court observed, “where parties enter into an agreement with a clear understanding of its substance and content, they cannot be heard to say later that they overlooked possible tax consequences.”

The Moral?  No do-overs. You only get one shot at the purchase price allocation when you buy a business. The purchase price allocation needs to be addressed early in your negotiations. If you want to have experts come in for a cost segregation study, you should do it as part of your due diligence before the deal closes, or under agreement afte the close with the seller. You can't unilaterally change the allocation. 

Be sure to consult with your own tax advisor at all stages of any business purchase or sale.

-Joe Kristan

A Failure to Market: Why the Hotel Pattee really closed

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Lessing-Flynn in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Hotel Pattee is a gem on the Iowa prairie, located in Perry. The hotel is set to close (again). And it's sad, because it could have been avoided.

When a property such as the Hotel Pattee - which is 45 mins from downtown Des Moines - is left to market itself, failure is assured. The hotel's management failed to plan for and spend money on marketing of the hotel. Let me elaborate.

Hotel Pattee lobby

The Hotel Pattee would never be sustainable on its own. It's in a lovely small town, but there aren't enough business customers to keep it afloat during the week. On weekends, it's an attractive destination for couples, but without anything to do in Perry, it's attractiveness is very limited. The Hotel foolishly invested in a fancy salon last year. What it should have done is invested in the entertainment that was offered in the lobby and lounge. Also, it provided two measly little rent-a-bikes for hotel guests. It should have really taken advantage of the fabulous trail system and hosted bikers and rides at least once per month.

Another total wiff by the hotel's management: They didn't market to their own proven customer base. Despite being a customer on numerous occasions, I did not receive a postcard, email or text message letting me know of specials or room deals. I never received a note from the manager thanking me for my business or noticing that I hadn't been back in more than a year. They squelched the opportunity to use the rich data they already own.

Don't even get me started on the social media aspect. Whoever was operating their Facebook page didn't know how to spell. And they never figured out how to use Twitter, despite numerous customers who consistently tweeted their praise to the @HotelPattee handle. A day late and a dollar short, the social efforts never took off.

Each category of product has a different level of spending that should be planned for marketing and put right into the budget, just like expenses for staffing, cleaning and supplies. Without a consistent marketing effort, even the best hotel is doomed to fail. The Hotel Pattee had a number of mitigating factors such as its isolation, which in some ways made it even more important for marketing to be implemented from the beginning.

Another important note: Sales is NOT marketing. Sales professionals work their contacts to get people in the door and make relationships. But those efforts should always be backed up by a smart marketing plan. Unfortunately, the Hotel Pattee never hired an outside company to conduct serious marketing and public relations on its behalf. 

Here we are. Lots of broken hearts. One of Iowa's gems is once again closed. I hope the new owners invest in marketing and public relations from the first day it re-opens.

And I hope I get an email asking me to return.

Claire Celsi

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